cover image Loaded: The Life (and Afterlife) of the Velvet Underground

Loaded: The Life (and Afterlife) of the Velvet Underground

Dylan Jones. Grand Central, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-538756-56-0

Evening Standard editor-in-chief Jones (Faster than a Cannonball) provides a riveting account of the “original kings and queens of edge.” Founded in 1964 and originally managed by Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground was among the first American rock bands to feature a combined male and female lineup, and pioneered a “rock archetype” look adopted by scores of subsequent groups (crucially, it involved “never smiling in photographs and wearing sunglasses indoors”). Jones’s deep dive makes each band member three-dimensional, including “mild-mannered guitarist from Poughkeepsie” Sterling Morrison, “ridiculously gifted classical player” John Cale, “icily cosmopolitan German singer” Nico (who was “foisted” on the band by Warhol), and “idiosyncratic” drummer Moe Tucker. Jones devotes particular attention to “self-created malcontent” Lou Reed, the group’s lead singer and songwriter, whose abrasive persona he deems mostly a facade (according to Bono, Reed’s “deadpan humor was easily misunderstood as rudeness”). Drawing from a star-studded slate of interviewees—including the band members, Bono, David Bowie, and Iggy Pop—Jones paints a vibrant portrait of the Velvet Underground’s rise against the backdrop of a 1960s New York City full of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” His evocative writing lends authority to insights that might otherwise read as hyperbolic, as when he describes the band’s music as “a whirlwind of subversion that managed to epitomize the immortality of youth.” The result is a must-read for rock fans. (Dec.)